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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Newspaper Records by Ryan Taylor, revised by Susanna de Groot, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Actual accounts of the wedding may include descriptions of the flowers and clothing, the bride’s dress getting detailed attention.
|The bride was daintily attired in a gown of lilac georgette, with white accessories and madonna hat. She was attended by Mrs George harris, who wore an attractive swagger suit. (Medicine Hat News, 11 October 1935)|
The unusual vocabulary (‘daintily attired’) is again in use. Some of the words—georgette, swagger suit—might require use of a thirties fashion dictionary. Extensive reading of weddings from the past reveals that many brides did not wear the huge white dresses which are universal today, but chose something more affordable, or which might be used again. The fabrics vary from time to time also, with satin popular in the 1930s, peau-de-soie everywhere in the 1960s and new man-made textiles appearing now.
An ad for Eaton’s from the same issue of the Medicine Hat News offers “Attractive celanese crepe affairs with long bias cut skirts neatly belted with charming novelty belts. A bewildering variety of delightful styles—puffed and cape sleeves—velvet touches—contrasting colours. Sizes 4 to 20. Each $1.95.” Aside from the cost, this ad offers a number of unknown things to think about (celanese crepe, cape sleeves, bias cut skirts) and an interesting range of sizes. It can also provide a discussion point for a family history interview; one observer said that her mother (who died in 1940) was very fond of cape sleeves, and pictures of this woman from the 1930s show her almost always wearing them.
Example of a Long Wedding Account
Here is a more extensive wedding report from the same period:
| Rosemary Connolly and John Gourley are Married Here: Lovely Wedding Solemnized in St. Patrick’s Church Followed by Breakfast at Cosmopolitan
A lovely wedding of much interest took place at 9:30 o’clock this morning in St. Patrick’s church, when Rosemary, only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Connolly of Medicine Hat, was united in marriage to John Joseph Gourley, second son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Gourley of Calgary. The Rev. Father M. J. Fitzpatrick officiated.
While Mrs. J. F. Kane, organist of the church, played the familiar wedding march from ‘Lohengrin’ the bridal party entered the church, the bride being given in marriage by her father. She was attired in a lovely lace-trimmed white satin gown, with veil and orange blossoms and long white silk gloves, her bouquet being of premier roses and lily-of-the-valley. The bridesmaid, Miss Alice Kuntz, wore maize-colored silk organdie with matching accessories and carried a bouquet of blue-shaded delphiniums.
Two enjoyable vocal solos were presented by Mrs. C. P. Klein, of Calgary, and Mrs. Harold Scott, of Medicine Hat.
Mr. Percy Giroux, of Calgary, acted as best man for Mr. Gourley. The ushers were Charles Connolly and Edward Kane.
The altar was beautifully decorated with autumn flowers, while the front pews were marked by snapdragons and white satin streamers.
Immediately following the ceremony, a wedding breakfast was served in the Cosmopolitan hotel. The guests were received by the bride’s mother, who wore a becoming gown of black crepe trimmed with lace, with hat to match. The centre table was decorated with sweet peas and centred by a three-tiered wedding cake.
The toast to the bride was proposed by Father Fitzpatrick, and answered by the bridegroom. Those who attended the wedding breakfast were:
Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Gourley, Mr. and Mrs. A. Connolly, Charles Connolly, Norman Connolly, Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Bechtel, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Winter, Mr. and Mrs. D. Nicholson, Mrs. Fred Mills, Miss Rose Galonski, Rev. J. M. Fitzpatrick, Miss Alice Kuntz, and Mrs. A. Gourley, Sr., Mrs. A. Gourley, Jr., Mrs and Mrs. G. Percey, Miss Peggy Gourley, Mrs. and Mrs. C. P. Klein, all of Calgary.
Mr. and Mrs. Gourley are leaving on today’s 5:30 train for Lethbridge, where they will spend their honeymoon. They will make their home in Calgary. (Medicine Hat News, 25 September 1935)
This account would certainly have been written ahead of time, to make the same day’s newspaper. In addition to elements of wedding reporting we have seen in the shorter versions above, here the reader is almost a participant, hearing the wedding march as the bride enters the church, with full descriptions of the principal frocks and flowers. The list of guests is useful, since it includes a number of relations. In that more formal age, most are referred to as ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ but what about the two who are not, Charles and Norman Connolly? The missing ‘Mr.’ makes it clear these are boys, not yet old enough for the title. Young women, such as Peggy Gourley, are more likely to have the ‘Miss’ added to their name despite their youth.
Mrs. Connolly’s black dress is most unusual, perhaps indicating that she is in mourning, although the wearing of mourning was no longer the rule in 1935. It was generally considered a faux pas to wear black at a wedding, even for a guest.
Wedding Flower Customs
Flowers have fashions too. The orange blossoms on Rosemary’s veil are a relic of an earlier age, when brides always carried or wore them. Roses had become the flower of choice for bridal bouquets and remained so—in fact, are probably still the most commonly used flower. Auxiliary flowers in the bouquet change through time, to baby’s breath in the 1950s, stephanotis in the 1960s. Brides now have a greater choice, including wild flowers. The use of ‘garden flowers’ such as delphiniums and snapdragons in this wedding is a homely touch. In fact, the flowers at this wedding point to past customs in the use of orange blossoms and flowers from the garden, perhaps even picked by the bride and bridesmaids on the morning of the wedding, and to future usage in the florist-made formal bouquet carried by the bride. The interest in these customs make including the details in your family account more desirable.
Many wedding accounts include information about where the couple are going to live, which will be helpful to genealogists who are on the trail of lost relations.
Details missing from this piece but which we might find added to similar accounts are the titles of songs sung by the two soloists, and what was eaten at the breakfast. Meals following traditional morning weddings are always referred to as ‘breakfast’ because of the Roman Catholic tradition of including a full mass with the wedding rite. Anyone intending to participate in the eucharist would be expected to fast from midnight on, so the post-wedding meal would really be a time to break the fast. Many people in the period when railroads were most in use took a train journey to be married. This may have been done without letting their relations know ahead of time, but it may also have been planned by the whole family. Taking a short journey, getting married in a ‘quiet’ ceremony and then returning home was a way of avoiding the costs of a large wedding celebration and the elaborate planning required. People might simply go to a nearby town, to a railway hub, or to another city which would afford the pleasures of a honeymoon also.
Finding Place of Marriage
Genealogists looking for marriage records for these people may have trouble finding them, because the town where the wedding was accomplished may have no other connections to the family or to the couple in question. One way out of this problem is to find a news item which tells about the wedding in the couple’s hometown newspaper. The town will be mentioned and the researcher can then look for the record there.
|Samuel Earl and his wife, née Miss Prince, were passengers on Wednesday’s train from Salt Lake City, where they were married on the 8th. (The Alberta Star, 18 April 1908)|
|Miss Mabel Foster and Wilfred (Curly) Commodore were married in Medicine Hat, Saturday, Sept. 7. The bride’s aunt, Mrs. J. Wethereldt of Wild Horse gave a big wedding dinner for the bridal pair, relatives and friends on Sunday, Sept. 8. (Medicine Hat News, 21 September 1935, in the Manyberries community news)|
The Commodore-Foster notice, which is from a rural community social column, shows that the family knew Mabel and Curly were going to be married, because Mabel’s aunt would have needed time to prepare the ‘big dinner’ the following day. An informal celebration following a ‘railway wedding’ would not be unusual and would have the same festive purpose as a formal reception, without the expense.
Readers of The Alberta Star would soon notice that a great many couples from Cardston, where the newspaper was published, went to Salt Lake City to be married. In fact, the social column reveals that a great many visitors from Cardston went to Salt Lake City all the time. It becomes clear that the community had a large Mormon population, and the editor of the paper was perhaps Mormon, too.
Later Social Functions
The newspaper may be a source to indicate the return from the honeymoon (in the social column), for couples who have been away for a time. In that section of society which went in for formal visiting, a new bride would be expected to be ‘at home’ to everyone she knew, especially those who had attended her wedding. This occasion might be the cause of a newspaper item after the fact, to describe its success.
Some women would not have appreciated their ‘at home’ or similar social functions being reported in the newspaper and in all likelihood the newspaper would not notice them unless they requested it. There was a school of thought which said that ‘a lady’s name appeared in the newspaper only three times, when she was born, when she was married and when she died.’ This is not entirely accurate, since at the time, a baby’s name did not appear in the birth announcement, but the idea was that a lady did not court the publicity of newspaper social notes. This may have been applicable in the more rarified parts of Montreal or New York society, but for most people, having their doings noticed in the newspaper was a pleasure.
Researchers may be faced with a wedding announcement which says the couple was wedded ‘recently’ or (as with the Gosh wedding below) ‘the other day’ with no more enlightening date. In this case, you have a year of marriage only, without month or day. This must lead to further research to find an exact date, using civil registration or church records. In some cases, no more certain date will be found.
Newspapers of the past enjoyed publishing jokes, usually of a mild kind acceptable to everyone, such as this from the Alberta Star of 13 August 1909: “According to a Springfield, Ill. paper, Charles I. Gosh was married the other day to Anne B. Damm. The bride revised her name downwards.”
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Newspaper Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.
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